Acrylic Nails

The Chemistry of Acrylics

Creating the perfect set of acrylics could be considered an art, but the foundation behind it is found in the science. NAILS breaks down the chemistry behind liquid-and-powder in laymen's terms.

Creating the perfect set of acrylics could be considered and art, but the foundation behind it--and the answers to many common technical questions--is found in the science.  NAILS breaks down the chemistry behind liquid-and-powder enhancements in laymen's terms.

Liquid & Powder: The Basic Chemistry

Liquid: a monomer made mostly of ethyl methacrylate (EMA), sometimes also including other monomers and additives. A monomer (“mono” means one; “mer” means unit) is a simple molecule that is the building block for polymer chains.

Catalyst: a substance that makes the chemical reaction occur faster than it otherwise would. (It speeds up breakage of the initiator in the powder.)

Inhibitors: ingredients, typically hydroquinone, hydroquinone monomethyl ether, or butylated hydroxytoluene, that keep the monomers from joining into polymer chains before they are mixed with the powder, which would cause premature hardening.

Cross-linkers (optional): additives that let the monomers join together in a 3-D netlike structure, a stronger structure than the row of head-to-tail connections they would otherwise create.

UV absorbers (optional): additives that absorb UV light (which can cause enhancements to yellow) and change it into blue light or heat.

Flow Modifiers (optional): additives that reduce brushstrokes on the surface, causing them to self-level.

Wetting agents (optional): additives that make liquids more compatible with a solid surface, thereby improving adhesion.

* A note on odorless acrylics: More accurately described as “low odor” (because they still release vapors, even though they’re difficult to smell),odorless acrylics don’t use ethyl methacrylate. While ethyl methacrylate reacts quickly and creates a strong color-stable enhancement, the monomers used to create low-odor products react slower and are not as color stable. Because they react slowly, oxygen inhibits the cure at the surface resulting in a tacky layer called the “oxygen inhibition layer”.

POWDER: a polymer whose particles act as carriers for the below ingredients. A polymer (“poly” means many) is a long chain of monomers that have been chemically linked together.

Initiator: a molecule that absorbs extra energy and uses it to cause chemical reactions to occur; in acrylic powder, it’s benzoyl peroxide, which breaks in half when exposed to the heat of your salon or your client’s finger. Concentrations of benzoyl peroxide vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.

UV absorbers (optional): additives that absorb UV light (which can cause enhancements to yellow) and change it into blue light or heat.

Colorants (optional): dyes that give the powder a pinkish color. Blue colorants act as an optical brightener, which means it makes other colors appear brighter.

Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) (optional): a mineral that serves as a whitening pigment. It is used for white, not clear, powders.

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